The Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Creator of Sherlock Holmes

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Creator of Sherlock Holmes is the second part of the obituary published in The Times on 8 july 1930.

The first part of the obituary was in the same issue on page 14 page: Obituary: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Times (8 july 1930, p. 19)

The Creator of Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, novelist, patriot, and in his later years ardent spiritualist, whose death in his seventy-second year we announce this morning, came of a family well known in the world of art and humour. His grandfather was John Doyle, the portrait painter and lithographer, who, under the signature of " H. B.," produced the still well-remembered caricatures of the Duke of Wellington and other great men of his day. Of the sons of John Doyle one was the yet more famous Richard ("Dicky") Doyle, who designed the best known picture in the world," the present cover of Punch, and worked much for that journal until his religious convictions — the family being Irish and Roman Catholic — compelled him to sever his connexion with a paper that attacked the Pope. Another son was Charles Doyle, also an artist, who settled in Edinburgh.

Arthur Conan Doyle was the eldest son, born on May 22, 1859, of this Charles Doyle. He received his education at Stonyhurst and at Edinburgh University, and adopted the profession of medicine, practising at Southsea from 1882 to 1890. Though it is not to medicine that he owed his fame, his knowledge and experience were of service to him in more than one way. He introduced the subject again and again into his novels, and not only into the specifically medical stories, such as "Round the Red Lamp"; and, always patriotic and keenly interested in the work and fortunes of the British Empire, he put himself at the disposal of his country during the South African War and served as senior physician to the field hospital equipped and maintained by Sir (then Mr.) John Langman.

One result of this experience was an important pamphlet (following a book on "The Great Boer War") entitled "The Cause and Conduct of the War," which was translated into 12 European languages, and given away by thousands. The object of the pamphlet was to put the fads of the case fairly and temperately before the peoples of Europe, and to disabuse them of some, at least, of the erroneous ideas that had been industriously spread on the subject of our political morality and our methods of warfare. It was doubtless in recognition of these services, no less than of those he rendered in fiction, that in 1902 he received the honour of knighthood. His public career also included two unsuccessful contests for a seat in Parliament, the first for Central Edinburgh in the Liberal Unionist interest in 1900, the second for the Hawick Burghs as a Tariff Reformer in 1906.

It is, however, as a writer of fiction that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was most widely known. The stories which his name brings instantaneously to the mind are those of which Sherlock Holmes is the central figure. The personality of the eccentric amateur detective — with his fiddle, his dressing-gown, his strong tobacco, his courage and resource, and his genius for the unravelling of mysteries which no mere professional detective could hope to possess — was well fitted to catch the popular imagination. And his creator made use of him with an ingenuity which was none the less remarkable because he knew each secret to start with, and worked backwards from it. And it cannot have been wholly by luck or accident (though it may have been by inspiration) that the character of Holmes's friend, Dr. Watson, has become no less famous and even more beloved than Holmes himself. Besides this remarkable success in rejuvenating detective fiction — to the great advantage of his successors — Conan Doyle achieved sterling results in the long list of historical romances that sprang from his fertile brain, from 1887, when he published his first book, "A Study in Scarlet," for some half a century onward, The tales of the Napoleonic era concerning Brigadier Gerard; "Micah Clarke," "The White Company," "Sir Nigel" — these and others are still popular, and deserve to be. But none of them, nothing else that Doyle ever wrote, equals "Rodney Stone," which contains, incidentally, the best exposition of the authors passion for pugilism.

His work for the stage was less successful than his books. Only one of his plays achieved a great vogue: the little Story of Waterloo, which provided Sir Henry Irving with one of his favourite and most effective characters, that of the very old soldier, Corporal Gregory Brewster.

In his later years Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave himself up more and more to the enthusiasms which his quick sympathies aroused in a generous nature. These included Home Rule for Ireland, prison reform, divorce, and especially spiritualism. Always fond of travelling, he visited Australia in 1921 and South Africa when he was 70, in the interests of the beliefs to which he had been converted from the sheer materialism of his early manhood. He wrote a history of spiritualism; and his views on the evidence for it and on evidence in general coloured much of his later fiction. Among his many exploits in defence of what he believed to be truth and justice was his long and finally successful struggle for the release of Oscar Slater. In this he showed himself as keen and generous a sportsman as he did in the hunting-field (it took a weight-carrier to bear the massive frame of him), on the cricket-field, on the golf links, and in all the relations of life.

Doyle was twice married, first to Miss Louisa Hawkins, of Minsterworth, Gloucestershire, who died in 1906 and secondly, to Jean, daughter of Mr. J. B. Leckie, of Crowborough.